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What’s So Special About the Sense of Touch?

This holiday why not try a fun, simple experiment while you’re gathered with family and friends!

Did you know that your skin is equipped with different touch receptors to capture different sensations? One of those sensations is temperature. It’s these receptors that tell you how cold the ice is in your freezer or warn you when your soup bowl is getting too hot for your hands. Let’s see what else you can learn about them in this experiment.

What You Need:

  • 3 medium-sized bowls
  • Ice water
  • Warm tap water
  • Room-temperature water

What To Do:

1. Fill your bowls with ice water, warm water, and room-temperature water—one for each.

2. Submerge your right hand in the warm water and your left hand in the ice water. Keep them submerged for 30 seconds.

3. Finally, place both hands in the room- temperature water for another 30 seconds.

4. Now have a friend or family member repeat these same steps then talk about what happened.

What Did You Discover?  

Describe the sensation of your left hand as it was submerged in the ice water. How did that sensation change when you moved it into the room-temperature water?

Describe the sensation of your right hand as it was submerged in the warm water. How did that sensation change when you moved it into the room- temperature water? Did it change the same way as your left hand?

Were there any bowls in which you stopped feeling a sensation? If so, how long did it take before your sensation leveled out?

What’s The Explanation?

The touch receptors in your skin tell your brain how much warmer or colder your environment is in comparison to your body. This is important for maintaining a healthy temperature. As you noticed, however, these receptors gradually adapt to their surroundings so you’re not overstimulated. Think about jumping into a lake on a warm summer day. It’s pretty cold at first, but soon enough you’re comfortable. It’s all thanks to the work of the receptors in your skin!

Imagine two bowls of soup of the same temperature: one you’re holding outside in the winter, the other you’re holding inside by a warm fire. Even though the two bowls are the same temperature, they feel different in your hands. Why is this the case?

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